International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December, marks the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317(IV) of 2 December 1949).
The focus of this day is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
There are at least 27 million people around the world today living in slavery.
Although slavery is illegal in every country in the modern world, it still exists, and even on the narrowest definition of slavery it's likely that there are far more slaves now than there were victims of the Atlantic slave trade.
Many believe this conservative figure falls far short of the reality. Until recently, the practice of slavery was thought to be largely exclusive to war-torn countries such as Angola, Sudan, Somalia and Chad. Today, even in relatively peaceful regions, slave trafficking is on the rise.
Nowdays there are more people living in slavery-like conditions today than at any other moment in history. There is no doubt that there are millions of men, women and children, from the Philippines to Bangladesh, from Brazil to Italy and the Dominican Republic, who live in conditions of direct physical or economic submission. In Mauritania and Sudan, entire peoples are someone's property. The contemporary forms of slavery include forced labor and prostitution, debt servitude and child labor. Slaves today may be concubines, camel jockeys or sugarcane cutters, road construction workers, rug weavers or loggers. Though we do not see many images of whips and chains, and people are not sold at public auction, the slaves of today in many cases are subjected to treatment even more brutal, and conditions even more horrifying than their predecessors.
The reality is that practices remain in place around the world allowing marriages in exchange for money or some type of economic benefit. This practice often turns into the 'purchase' of the bride and her 'services'. In some places, it is the bride's family must pay a dowry to the groom or his family, and if that sum cannot be handed over in full before the marriage, the woman is 'retained' within the marriage and subjected to punishment, mistreatment and other forms of violence as long as the debt is not paid.
In many cases, modern slavery, particularly in rural areas, can be traced to the repayment of family debts through the sale of family members, usually children, or through servitude to the creditor.
Sexual slavery is another major form of human subjugation. In addition to the prostitution networks and sexual exploitation involving women, children and immigrants over much of the world, a business with a turnover of $7-13 billion a year, there are also some forms of marriage in which women become slaves. In effect, while Article 1o of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery (1956) bans 'any practice or institution in which the woman, 'without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group', or in which 'the husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise'.
The widespread decline in the market for agricultural products and local natural disasters has forced small farmers to amass debt in order to survive; many have inherited debt several generations old. Such is the case of the Adivasi indigenous peoples in India, the peasant farmers in some areas of Brazil and the people of Bolivia's jungle regions who are forced to sell their harvests and their lands at rock-bottom prices. Debt also imprisons immigrants who cross borders illegally in search of work, and once at their destination find that their income must go to the networks that brought them there, to cover supposed expenses such as transport, food and lodging.
Like the children who are forcibly recruited into Sudan's army or by Somali warlords or Liberian guerrilla forces, many adults are forced, kidnapped or coerced into enlisting, whether in the regular army or with guerrillas, paramilitaries or other armed opposition groups.